The visual computing clash: Nvidia CEO opens a can of whoop-ass for Intel

Santa Clara (CA) – Nvidia and Intel are on a crash course: With Nvidia moving its GPUs into potential CPU territory and Intel tuning CPUs to take over GPU territory, you have a classic scenario for a confrontation between two industry giants that have the same goal – to shape the era of visual computing. Nvidia’s chief executive officer Jen-Hsun Huang today lashed out at recent Intel announcements and claims that indicated how the company wants to build up its graphics front line. Huang chose strong, emotional words to strike back, calling Intel’s second discrete visual computing offering “Laughabee”.

Huang, known for his great passion for the company he founded, apparently has been hit on the wrong nerve. He opened Nvidia’s financial analyst day by explaining that “Nvidia is a Visual Computing company, not a semiconductor corporation” and that his goal is nothing else but “to make GPUs better and deliver great experience”. But the opening lines quickly shifted into another dimension when he compared Intel’s performance roadmap from IDF Spring 2008 and Nvidia’s current products.

“Intel is false. They have crossed the line, they’re saying false things.”

“They say”, Huang stated, “Nvidia is going to be dead. Their graphics are good, but we’ll put graphics into the CPU and there is no place for them to stick it.” He went on to compare Intel’s current Core 2 platform with the next-gen processors and said that it would be “nothing else but putting more transistors [on it] instead of thinking of a solution.”

“People don’t buy Nvidia products because they have to, because they’re allowed to. They buy our stuff because they want to. They’re overwhelmed by the value and the benefit we bring,” Huang noted.

“This team [Nvidia] is like a Ferrari team. We know how to bring visual technology to life. We bring 20-30-40x the performance advantage and 27x the price/performance ratio”. Even if Intel was able to deliver a 10-fold performance increase, the company would still not be able to reach catch up with Nvidia and AMD in the discrete space, Huang said.

Jen-Hsun also commented on article by  Jon Peddie showing the last ten years of the graphics market, recently published on TG Daily, stating that Nvidia went through a lot of competitors and sees Intel just one of them.

Intel’s Larrabee was called “Laughabee”. Much of the performance provided by this card in fact will depend on quality drivers for DirectX and OpenGL APIs. Huang openly doubted that Intel can deliver workable drivers, judging by their current state of incompatibility. Bear in mind that Intel’s integrated graphics parts don’t yield great results in Microsoft DCT tests, and most of the issues are waived by WHQL Labs due to the lack of hardware support. Then again, you should not consider Intel’s integrated graphics being garbage because of waivers on the DCT test (Nvidia had the same issues with GeForce FX and 6/7 series of products).

Over the past few weeks, numerous Intel representatives were talking about Intel’s visual computing ideas – starting with Paul Otellini’s presentation at the firm’s analyst day, Pat Gelsinger’s pre-IDF briefing and more aggressive information that was coming out of IDF. Ranging from the integration of graphics into the Nehalem CPU to the company’s first discrete graphics card, for which the company is creating lots of hype.

We were willing to give Intel benefit of the doubt on future parts, but the fact of the matter is that their current integrated graphics systems will probably end up costing Microsoft billions of dollars and an integrated PC platform that is believed to be slowly pushing the mainstream PC market into the console market. Given the amount of issues that Intel integrated graphics faces today, including the criticism coming from industry gurus such as Tim Sweeney and John Carmack, you could expect Nvidia to go take aim at Intel today.

While it certainly looks that Intel and Nvidia are heading into a confrontation, it appears that some information may also got out of hand. For example, we were contacted by Intel about a recent article in which an Intel engineer stated that people “probably” won’t need graphics cards in the future anymore. In a statement sent to us by email, the company said:

“Intel is not predicting the end of the discrete graphics business. Moore’s Law has allowed Intel to innovate and integrate. As a result, we expect that we and others will integrate graphics and visual computing capabilities directly into our CPUs in the future much like floating point coprocessors and other multimedia functions have in the past. However, we don’t expect that this integration will eliminate the market for higher-end discrete graphics cards and the value they provide.”

In case you wonder, no, Nvidia’s CEO did not deliver explanations on the results of Windows hardware survey which blamed nv4_displ.dll driver for almost a third of BSODs in Windows Vista (Google search will reveal around 613.000 results for a “Nvidia BSOD” search).